Monday, March 01, 2010

Bad Writing Chronicles: Frank Rich is Jejune

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the people who run around calling conservatives stupid write the stupidest things themselves. In fairness, however, Frank Rich isn't calling conservatives stupid in his latest, just obsessed and deranged. The evidence is underwhelming, and the op-ed moreso. Enjoy.

No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists,


Rich will demonstrate this point rather emphatically in three, two, one...

who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18.

History has already more or less forgotten 9/11. Some kook ramming his prop jet into a three story building is going to have lasting traction? Incautious indeed, but this isn't about predictions. It's about crafting a hacky segue. Done and done.

What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it.

Who flirted with condoning it? What does it mean to flirt with condoning something? Talk about a non-falsifiable charge.

Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.”

But this is the New York Times, so let's make with the glib and inaccurate, no?

But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner.

Also, Hitler was a vegetarian.

That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom.

There are Facebook shrines dedicated to sex, hugs, pooping, and the beard of one of the contestants on Bravo's Top Chef. Suffices to say, I don't look to Facebook advocacy to be "inspired".

Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo

Evidence would be a good thing to introduce, here...

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.”

Right cause, wrong tactic. Political boilerplate. What's he supposed to do, tear his clothes and beat his thighs in anguish?

Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.

News flash: Magnitude matters.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context,

Just opportunistic and indulgent.

Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement.

Translation: Frank Rich's agenda does not accord with the goals of the Tea Party movement.

Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history.

Anyone who is cognizant now will recognize just how hacky it is to pen the words "mists of history" in an op-ed. Seriously, "mists of history"?

The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

All exactly the same... No need for any further clarification. Banjos, automobiles, rhinoceros.

And now it is finding common cause with some elements of the diverse, far-flung and still inchoate Tea Party movement. All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.

With this last sentence, Frank has dismissed his entire argument, unless he is arguing against movements generally. But yes, when you unite millions of people behind a set of ideals, the odds are that a few of those people will be beyond reason. Even still, crazy IRS-bombing dude didn't identify with any major movement.

Equally significant is Barstow’s finding that most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them.

Equally significant to what? He never made any sort of point about the Tea Party in the first place. He just listed a bunch of nouns. But yes, it is significant that the Tea Party movement has not acquiesced to the demands of a particular political party. Would it be glib and inaccurate to note that last year liberals were condemning the tea party protests as the astroturf wing of the Republican party?

The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush.

Whereas Frank loves Bush and McCain.

They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two.

Wait, what? Just above, Frank was arguing that they had nothing to do with the Republican party. Now they are separated only by (at most) two hairs? He wants to have his cake and eat it to, and his cake has hair in it.

(Were Obama not earning extra demerits in some circles for his race, it might be a dead heat.)

Well that's a hell of a thing to put in parentheses.

While Washington is fixated on the natterings of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michael Steele and the presumed 2012 Republican presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, these and the other leaders of the Party of No are anathema or irrelevant to most Tea Partiers.

So what? They are also anathema to Frank Rich. Since when is it not okay for certain politicians to evince anathema and/or irrelevance?

The old G.O.P. guard has no discernible national constituency beyond the scattered, often impotent remnants of aging country club Republicanism.

Which is just terrible, apparently. Frank pines for the days of country club Republicanism. Hey, free golf. You know what? We're eight paragraphs in, and he hasn't mentioned Beck or Palin.

The leaders embraced by the new grass roots right are a different slate entirely: Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin.

That's better. I was starting to get worried.

Simple math dictates that none of this trio can be elected president.


So why is the whole enterprise so perilous?

But these leaders do have a consistent ideology, and that ideology plays to the lock-and-load nutcases out there, not just to the peaceable (if riled up) populist conservatives also attracted to Tea Partyism.

Setting aside the ad hominems, what he is saying is that purveyors of a consistent ideology appeal to those who also adhere to that ideology. In related news, dogs like bacon and chairs have four legs.

This ideology is far more troubling than the boilerplate corporate conservatism and knee-jerk obstructionism of the anti-Obama G.O.P. Congressional minority.

Hyphens do not, in and of themselves, render any critique more effective. Frank knows this, right?

In the days after Stack’s Austin attack, the gradually coalescing Tea Party dogma had its Washington coming out party at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), across town from Capitol Hill.

Yeah, they timed it that way on purpose.

The most rapturously received speaker was Beck,

The most rapturously received speaker was Palin.

A co-sponsor of CPAC was the John Birch Society, another far-right organization that has re-emerged after years of hibernation.

Way to bury the most damning accusation in paragraph number bagillion, Frank. But yeah, this was pretty stupid.

Its views, which William F. Buckley Jr. decried in the 1960s as an “idiotic” and “irrational” threat to true conservatism, remain unchanged.

Remain unchanged? But you said they re-emerged. How can you remain unchanged and re-emerge at the same time? Also, I am so tired of liberals evoking Buckley. They agreed with nothing the man said. Liberals always play this game of pretending to appreciate whoever represented the conservative movement 20 years ago.

William Kristol dismissed the straw poll results as the youthful folly of Paul’s jejune college fans.

If they are so jejune, why is Frank writing about them in the New York Times? Outside of Paris Hilton and her ilk, how can one be jejune and newsworthy at the same time? My guess is that Frank has only a foggy idea of what the word "jejune" means, and since NYT apparently fired all of its editors ten years ago, it runs intact. Oh, and he used "jejune" in his op-ed the next day. Did he lose a bet?

But in truth, most of the CPAC speakers, including presidential aspirants, were so eager to ingratiate themselves with this claque that they endorsed the Beck-Paul vision rather than, say, defend Bush, McCain or the party’s Congressional leadership.

So it is a bad thing that conservatives frown upon the Bush presidency? Bush is suddenly a beacon of sanity and vision? Really?

And so — just one day after Stack crashed his plane into the Austin I.R.S. office

Which again, has nothing, at all, to do with CPAC.

— the heretofore milquetoast Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, told the audience to emulate Tiger Woods’s wife and “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.”

Congratulations. Tim Pawlenty isn't boring any more. Even the New York Times says so!

Such violent imagery and invective, once largely confined to blogs and talk radio, is now spreading among Republicans in public office or aspiring to it.

A reference to smashing a window? This is violent invective?

Last year Michele Bachmann, the redoubtable Tea Party hero and Minnesota congresswoman, set the pace by announcing that she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” to oppose Obama administration climate change initiatives.

Of course, she was literally referring to her desire for Minnesotans to store up guns and execute environmentalists. Good synopsis, Frank.

In the heyday of 1960s left-wing radicalism, no liberal Democratic politicians in Washington could be found endorsing groups preaching violent revolution.

Which is exactly the same as...

In the months before McVeigh’s mass murder, Helen Chenoweth and Steve Stockman, then representing Idaho and Texas in Congress, publicly empathized with the conspiracy theories of the far right that fueled his anti-government obsessions.

Of course, Clinton blamed Rush Limbaugh then.

In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose.

And by profiled, Frank means "cherry picked".

She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”

I'm glad Frank devoted an entire paragraph to someone else's interview with some retiree in Idaho. Otherwise, I would have assumed he had no compelling reason to identify a trend.

Whether consciously or coincidentally,

Either way, same thing. You can use those words interchangeably, just like "milquetoast" and "jejune".

Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.”

Well, the Barstow piece ran before CPAC 2010 even began, so if Pam Stout was consciously echoing Palin, she is clairvoyant. For crying out loud, the piece appeared in the same damn paper. None of the editors could be bothered to check on the date of an article running in their own paper? It's not like this piece is brimming with facts to check.

Oh, and this would be a good time to note that the print version of this piece refers to Tim Pawlenty as the former governor of Minnesota. Yeah, this is why the New York Times won't be around in twenty years. How's that for an incautious bet?

What a jejune piece of writing. Jejune right in the face!

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